It was dark, down in the holding area for prisoners. Blut Bilder squirmed in his restraints, cursing under his breath. He paused, to glance about him once more. No, still dark. Nothing new there. His eyes had only just managed to become accustomed to the gloom, and even then, there wasn’t much to see. Just some gray shapes here and there, which might have been boxes and crates and might not have been.
Everything, he thought, had been going perfectly to plan. He had ingratiated himself into Admiral Graves’ staff, as much as any defector in the field could be accepted by the group he defected to. It was odd, he thought. The admiral and his cronies were all defectors, too, but they viewed him with a special distaste. As if their treason were somehow more acceptable because of the veneer of rank and position, whereas his remained vile and disgusting. Nevermind that theirs had caused far more damage than his; in their minds, he was the Benedict Arnold of the situation.
Only, somehow, unlike Arnold, he’d been caught.
But even so, he had reached a sort of acceptance. After the admiral had announced that he’d had Bilder’s old commander knocked off, there was almost a status quo that entered the equation. Sort of a “you did something dirty for me, so I did something dirty for you.” There might be no honor amongst traitors, but they seemed to take reciprocity pretty seriously.
Bilder had even been able to get excited about the future that Graves spoke of: one where humans, united under one flag, spread out across the galaxy in one homogenous wave. No nations, no tribes, just one people. And killing anything that stood in their way. No nonsense about rights and freedoms – those things only caused strife on earth, Admiral Graves had pointed out. Power, sheer power. That was the way forward.
While Bilder agreed heartily with all this – after all, it was the only thing that he really understood – he was a bit perplexed about how it could all go forward. After all, space exploration was a relatively slow process. Nations had to methodically establish logistics posts on planets, asteroids, or space stations in order to resupply the ever-advancing fleets, which was a laborious and time-intensive process. He himself had joined up because fighting pirates on the backside of some undiscovered moon seemed like a nice change from the warehouse where he was working. He was a bit chagrined to find out that the warehouse work continued when he was in the military – only with worse hours and less safety gear.
See, to make this whole plan work, they’d have to be able to push out into Deep Space – far out. And quickly, too. But as of now, no one had ever been able to get over that logistical hurdle. Ships kept running out of fuel or worse – disappearing into a region where no one ever heard from them again. Deep Space contained miracles and monsters, depending on who you talked to. But until they could develop the technology to get out there in force, then it would all remain loose fiction.
Admiral Graves had hinted at some new developments the other day, Bilder remembered, as he searched the blackness for clues of how to escape. He’d mentioned something about…he shook his head. Everything was still a little fuzzy. Especially since that knock on the head he’d gotten when the bulkhead blew in, tossing him across the room and slamming him against the wall. They used explosives inside a damn spaceship he thought. Clever, dangerous bastards. Could’ve caused a hull breach on the flagship. But they didn’t, and he’d ended up getting dragged off by some burly sailors, screaming at them that they’d all pay for this.
He groaned again. As far as he could tell, he was the only one in this little corner of the brig. But there had been more people dragged out of the staterooms off the admiral’s suite. More of the admiral’s staff, some random people that Bilder didn’t know, but who had to be spies. And he had the vague recollection that he’d seen Admiral Graves himself – being dragged along a corridor by several pilots, his head bloodied and his uniform a complete mess. Bilder shook his head to try to clear it, but immediately regretted it because of the pain.
It was coming back to him now, though. Graves had been dragged along, seemingly alive. But the bodies being dragged behind him, leaving long dark streaks along the decking, those were definitely corpses. Their dark armor showed them to be SEALs, all dead. His personal security thought Bilder. Something happened that made everyone turn…somehow, they found out. There had been Marine officers dragging those SEALs, he remembered. And if they had turned, that meant…the whole thing was up.
“Why am I even alive, then,” he muttered into the blackness.
“Fantastic question,” came a voice from the same blackness. Bilder almost gave himself a concussion off the storage rack overhead in reaction. There was movement and a light flicked on. Bilder saw that he was crammed into a part of the ship he’d never seen before, deep down into the hold. There were a few troops looking at him, as he blinked in the suddenly blinding light. He could make out Ian Tollinger – That rat bastard, I thought we’d killed him – and some others who he didn’t recognize but were wearing Naval rig. The speaker, he noticed with some anger mixed with no small amount of fear, was Sergeant Stennerly.
“Sir, we should just toss him overboard and be done with his traitorous ass,” she said, staring at Bilder as if he were a particularly repugnant type of slug that she’d just found in her ice cream. “Or maybe let me shoot him?”
Bilder heard Ian sigh, and then say, “Sergeant, we’ve been over this already. We don’t kill people without a trial, that’s it, cut and dried. And also, he might know something.” Ian looked at Bilder. “Although I can’t imagine what.” Bilder watched Ian turn and walk away. Stennerly directed one last glare at him and walked away as well. The Navy gents remained, however.
“What do you squids want?” Bilder asked, nettled by Stennerly, while also annoyed that he had allowed her to get to him. The two Navy officers were wearing crisp, clean uniforms, of the type Bilder expected to see at some embassy or something planet-side. Definitely not something one would be wearing in a combat zone. He didn’t even see any weapons on them. The one on the right was rather taller, with dark hair and eyes but a pale face. The officer on the left was fair-haired but bore the tell-tale signs of a fleet fighter pilot: every part of his face was pale but for the area around his eyes, which was tan, giving him the look of a rather confused raccoon. Neither man was smiling.
“Surely you didn’t think the Army was going to handle the case of treason in the US Navy,” the one of the right stated. “You’ve been remanded to us, for questioning.”
“For questioning,” repeated Bilder. “Yeah, sure, I know what torture is.”
“Unfortunately for you, we can’t torture you,” said the one on the left. “After a while, you’ll be wishing we could, just for some variety in your life. Tell me,” he continued, looking down at Bilder with a serene countenance, “in all your travels have you ever encountered the utterly sublime horror of being alone in space? There’s nothing like it, truly. An isolation not of the person, but of the soul. There was a saying back in the old days, ‘In space, no one can hear you scream.’ And sure, that’s bad, but there’s this really nifty other thing: in space, you can’t hear you scream.” He smiled. “No, no torture. Just plenty of rest, food, and water – and some space.”
Bilder suddenly found he was having difficulty swallowing. “But…that’s torture?”
The dark-haired officer shrugged. “Some people might call it a peaceful retreat,” he said. “It’s all in perspective.”
Bilder glared at them and then slumped, his whole body giving way. He was not a brave man.
“What if…what if I were to talk and tell you everything,” he asked. The two men looked at each other.
“Could work,” said the dark-haired man.
“Have you seen his file?” asked the raccoon.
“Sure, yes, of course.”
“You saw what he did to his crewmates?”
“Ah. Yes. I see what you’re getting at. But, redemption, you know. Rehabilitation and all that.”
The raccoon pondered this as Bilder followed the bead of sweat that had suddenly appeared on the back of his own his neck and slowly dripped down his spine. There was the fear, now. The cold, intense fear that had made him do oh, so many horrible things. And he was prepared to do them again, if only to get this fear to stop. Bilder wasn’t up on his ethics, but if he had met the trolley problem, he would’ve only asked which track got him out of being in trouble and the threat of retribution. And he would’ve taken that one without a moment’s hesitation.
For he was a true and utter coward, he reflected, as he saw the raccoon smile at him again.
“I’ve always felt like redemption could only be true redemption,” said the raccoon, reaching down and pulling Bilder to his feet with a powerful grip, “if there’s something worth redeeming in the first place.”
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“Finding Space” is a serialized story appearing solely on this site. It is an experiment at writing science fiction as well as a method to keep the author on task. Tune in for new additions to the story as they are written.
About the Author: Angry Staff Officer is an Army engineer officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare.